Getting ready for the game between the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts, I went to the well a second time. Josh Wilson from Stampede Blue already was a guest on our preview podcast, but he was still willing to answer a few more questions for our "five questions" feature we do each week.
Here is what he had to say about the questions I posed.
ROTB: Greg Toler has once again had some injury issues. How good has he been when he has been on the field. I heard that Pagano called him a shutdown corner.
SB: When healthy, Greg Toler has been solid but unspectacular. He has been burned on routes too often and I would have said that he was an upgrade over Jerraud Powers, but mainly because he stayed on the field. And then he was injured, and he will miss his fourth straight game this Sunday against the Cardinals. He practiced on Monday but he must have had a setback of sorts, because he was officially ruled out on Friday.
Pagano did indeed call him a "shutdown corner," and while I wouldn't go that far I will say that ever since he has been injured, the secondary has looked so much worse. Is that all because of Toler's absence? Of course not, but it probably has had a bigger impact than I thought it would have, so that must also be taken into consideration when evaluating Toler's play.
SB: Yes, Bjoern Werner is likely to start for Erik Walden on Sunday. Werner, the Colts' first round draft pick this year, has been less than stellar in his debut, but that can be attributed to several reasons, including the fact that he is a rookie making a switch from a 4-3 DE to a 3-4 OLB and that he has missed significant time due to injury this year. I haven't been overly impressed by him so far this year but I still like his potential and can see improvement gradually happening.
I'm interested in seeing how he does filling in for Walden, as much of his time so far has been spent working at the rush linebacker behind Robert Mathis. Now that he will be starting at the other linebacker spot, I'll be interested to see how he does. If he does well, he could earn another start. I expect him to hold his own, but I wouldn't expect him to change the game by any means. He has been mainly a pass rush guy so far, so if I'm the Cardinals I would run at him early and often to test him. I think Arizona could have success doing that.
ROTB: The Colts defense does not statistically stand out. However, the second half of games have been a different story. What happens from the first and second half. What do they do differently?
SB: In terms of statistics, the Colts' defense is ranked 22nd in the league in total yards per game allowed (16th versus the pass, 28th against the run) but 10th in points per game allowed. As you mentioned, the Colts in the first half just have not been playing well. The most disparity between the first and second halves in my opinion has been with the offense, but certainly there has been a big difference with the defense too between halves.
This has been most evident in the last three games, where the Colts have been outscored 66-9 in the first halves combined but then outscored opponents 56-23 in the second halves. I think the main reason for the defense improving so much is because, and I have stated this on our site numerous times, I believe that Chuck Pagano does a very good job at halftime and in-game adjustments, whereas his pre-game preparation has been suspect.
He is still learning as a head coach (in fact, this Sunday's game will mark his 16th on the sidelines for the Colts, including playoffs) and so far he has done a good job overall at adjusting in-game to what the offense is doing. I think that is the main reason for the defense improving in the second half - the coaches do a good job of making adjustments based on how the offense is attacking them.
ROTB: If you were to scheme against the Colts' offense and defense, how would you attack them?
SB: Against the Colts offense, I would focus on T.Y. Hilton and Coby Fleener, as those two players are by far the biggest receiving threats on the team (and perhaps the only real ones). I would attack the interior of the offensive line that has been weak and suspect all season long, with Hugh Thornton at left guard, Samson Satele at center, and Mike McGlynn at right guard. That is where I would focus the pass rush on, although both tackles have been beat this season too.
You can't expect to bring Andrew Luck down too often because he does a great job at avoiding it for the most part, but if he gets pressured enough he might get a little flustered without Reggie Wayne there and have some errant passes. You also have to be watching out for Luck's scrambles, and now with only two real receiving threats it might be easier to defend that a bit if the defense wants to. And versus the run game, just plug up the holes (if there are even any) and you'll be set.
The Colts aren't all to hard to stop on the ground because so far Trent Richardson hasn't shown the ability to create plays out of nothing. Donald Brown proves a real threat, but if you just focus on the fundamentals he won't do anything that will win the game for the Colts. That will have to be Andrew Luck, and how to stop him is the million dollar question, but doing what I suggested earlier will help. But ultimately, he's going to make some plays that you just can't defend. Take those plays and just hope to limit the offense to incredible plays by Luck. He'll make them, but not every play.
Against their defense, two main things come to mind: don't give up running the football and attack the secondary. Too many teams have given up running the football on the Colts and that led to problems early on (when the Colts pass defense was actually playing like a top ten pass defense, which they haven't been in recent weeks). The run defense has always given up yards all season long, and now Erik Walden won't even be there either. You don't have to run every single play, but you can't give up on the run game either and use it to pick up yards against the Colts, because those yards will be there to gain. And with the receiving threats the Cardinals have, I'd attack the Colts secondary deep. The Texans' Andre Johnson absolutely torched them three weeks ago, and it seems that they can be beat on deep passes. With Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, this seems like a very smart game plan to try against the Colts, at least early on.
ROTB: Which Cardinals players do you believe will be the biggest threat to the Colts this weekend?
SB: I've mentioned them a couple of times already so this will probably be obvious, but I think that the receiving duo of Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd pose the biggest threat to the Colts. Starting corner Greg Toler has already been ruled out and starting safety LaRon Landry is questionable with a toe injury (and he hasn't been that good in coverage when healthy, either). Cassius Vaughn, who will likely start at the number two cornerback spot, will be overmatched. Vontae Davis, the team's top corner who, for much of the first half of the season looked like one of the league's best, has struggled in recent weeks.
Against these receivers, he will be tested too. And the Cardinals have a quarterback in Carson Palmer who is better than Case Keenum, Kellen Clemens, and Ryan Fitzpatrick - the three quarterbacks who have torched the Colts secondary in the last three weeks. The Cardinals passing attack will be a huge threat to this Colts secondary and it's one that quite frankly I'm not sure the Colts are ready to stop.
More from Revenge of the Birds:
- Fantasy football: Arizona Cardinals must free Andre Ellington
- The Team No One Is Talking About
- Colts vs. Cardinals: 3 keys to an Arizona Week 12 win over Indianapolis
- Arizona Cardinals podcast: Podcast preview of Colts vs. Cardinals with Stampede Blue
- NFL injury report, Week 12, Colts vs. Cardinals: Justin Bethel downgraded, Trent Richardson limited